A memorial to Emma Lindley

From Nathalie Spencer, from her RSA blog

Readers of this blog may already be aware of the tragic news that Social Brain colleague Emma Lindley recently passed away. Below, I offer to you a poem I selected and read in Emma’s memory earlier this week at a staff gathering in her honour. Tributes by colleagues Jonathan Rowson, Gaia Marcus, and Matthew Taylor are also available.

I’d like to read a poem in Emma’s honour; but first, some background:

Some may remember that Emma wrote a blog post earlier this year about world poetry day. This was the first time I learned that she was a poetry buff and more specifically a fan of poet William Carlos Williams. I am a novice but from my limited exposure I too am a William Carlos Williams fan, so together we had a really lovely exchange about poetry in general and his work in particular.

More recently, when I “discovered” a famous poet of a similar style, Emma and I were in touch again and we had planned on taking some time to get a coffee and chatting more about this genre when she was next in the office.

So I thought it would be fitting to read out a poem today in Emma’s honour, a William Carlos Williams poem that I chose because it illustrates the quality of paying careful attention to the essence of a thing, a quality which she wrote very elegantly about in her blog post.

Emma wrote: “His poems often convey a certain haecceitas – the quality of ‘thisness’ – capturing something very particular. In the Social Brain Centre, we’re interested in the importance of attention, and one of the possibilities offered by Carlos Williams’ poetry is to focus attention very acutely. In a way, I think his poems illustrate mindfulness in action.”

With this in mind, I’d like to read “To a Solitary Disciple” by WCW.

Rather notice, mon cher,
that the moon is
titled above
the point of the steeple
than that its color
is shell-pink.

Rather observe
that it is early morning
than that the sky
is smooth
as a turquoise.

Rather grasp
how the dark
converging lines
of the steeple
meet at a pinnacle —
perceive how
its little ornament
tries to stop them-

See how it fails!
See how the converging lines
of the hexagonal spire
escape upward—
receding, dividing!
— petals
that guard and contain
the flower!

how motionless
the eaten moon
lies in the protective lines.
It is true:
in the light colors
of the morning

Brown-stone and slate
Shine orange and dark blue

But observe
the oppressive weight
of the squat edifice!
the jasmine lightness
of the moon.

In memory of Dr Emma Lindley.

One Comment

  1. julia

    I never got to meet Emma in my short time at the RSA. I have been so touched by her presence through these tributes, and particularly through this poem.

    As a writer I feel the sense of “thisness” Emma wrote about in these memorials and in the Quaker way am holding everyone around her in the light.



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